About a year ago I got interested in hospice after a classmate, a church member, and a client’s baby died. Follow that my cousin died. I was curious about the process of working with a family as they are preparing for a loved one’s death, as well as the grief and loss process. My research began in pediatric hospice, as I felt unprepared to support a young mom who was dealing with her baby’s death (she was just weeks old). Hospice and palliative care is a philosophy of care that focuses on caring for a patient rather than curing an illness or disease with an overall goal of enabling people to live as fully and comfortably as possible. I asked University of Southern California to place me in hospice for my concentration year field placement because I wanted to make sure it was a good fit.
In April of 2012 I started working at Signature Services in Eugene Oregon. We grew from about 30 patients to about 55 currently and I’m told that once I have that diploma and the census is up to 75 I’ll be hired on as a full time social worker. I’ve been asked, what does a hospice social worker do? We can help clients get on Medicare/Medicaid, Meals on Wheels, placements from home to nursing homes or assisted living or foster homes, caregiver support, assistance with power of attorney or health care power of attorney, funeral planning, assistance with veteran’s benefits or senior and disabled services, assessing for elder abuse, emotional support for the client and their family, helping take pets to animal shelters, care conferences with multiple staff support people, I’ve checked out audio books at the library, gone on walks, advocated for bucket list items, filled out organ donor forms, and I’ve helped move belongings from one place to another. I see my goal is to start where the client is, and to assist them when at all possible to help them close this chapter in their life as peacefully and as dignified as possible.
Folks have commented on how hard this work must be, and while it can be sad for me to say goodbye, it really is an honor. First of all, I love to learn about the story of a person’s life and secondly, when they die, they are no longer suffering. I have worked with too many clients, who while they may have been better off after receiving services provided by the agency I was working for – it is likely those clients’ lives would continue to be complicated by past traumas and life obstacles. And I still had to say goodbye.
Last week I was offered a part-time position at Signature! I’ll be supporting staff as an office assistant for the time being, as I finish up my last semester of graduate school. I feel so blessed this month and excited about the future. Today, I got my photo id card so I feel “official.”